I was reminded of one of my personal great moments in customer service when I ran across this article in the Daily Mail. Honestly, I think that the provision of expensive gift hampers for the holidays is one of those in which British merchants have it all over American, but then they had a long, long, long head start on us.
Anyway, I was often stuck for a present for my paternal grandmother, Granny Dodie, as she had a houseful of things and had need of another ornamental vase, plate or candle holder about as much as President Biden needed another tub of uniformly marked and unfolded ballots in the last presidential election. I was stationed in Greece in the early 1980s, and Granny Dodie was living with Great Aunt Nan, her sister-in-law. My shopping for presents for the family was either in the various shops in the Plaka, the old district in downtown Athens which offered folk art, curios, antiques, and bits of this or that … or out of mail order catalogues. Among the paper mail order catalogues that I had was one for Fortnum and Mason, the plush and uber-upscale department store in London, and the thought came to me that Granny Dodie would certainly get a thrill out of receiving one of their gift hampers, full of traditional English specialties … so, I picked out one from the catalog that I could readily afford, filled out the order form, included an international money order (this was well, well, well before the internet, Oh Best Beloved…), popped the whole thing into the mail, and checked off Granny Dodie and Great Aunt Nan from my list.
Some weeks later, I was called to the telephone – at work at EBS-Hellenikon. I didn’t have a home telephone; most of us didn’t then, as the waiting list for a telephone through the Greek national telecom system was something like a decade long. (My landlord, and his sister and brother-in-law shared a single phone for their separate apartments, respectively on the ground and third floors of the building I lived in. I had the second-floor apartment. The phone traveled between apartments in a plastic shopping bag on the end of a long length of rope, as my landlord and his sisters’ family had need of it.)
The caller for me at work was from the customer service department at Fortum and Mason. Who had done a beyond-the-normal-call-of-duty effort in tracking my physical whereabouts from my unit and APO address, and somehow finding the correct base telephone number for the duty section where I could be reached during the day. It seemed that one of the items in the hamper that I had ordered – a cured ham, if I recall correctly – couldn’t be imported to the US. Customer service had an equivalent item which could be included in the gift hamper. Would that be satisfactory, and did I approve the substitution?
I approved, of course – and he assured me that the hamper would be dispatched immediately. I was slightly boggled at how he had managed to sort out where I was, when I hadn’t put a telephone number on the order form, only my postal address.
And Granny Dodie and Great Aunt Nan loved the hamper – they were thrilled no end, sampling the various gourmet contents. It was a success beyond my imagining as a Christmas gift, for which I was very glad later. It was the very last gift I was able to send her, as she passed away six months later.